How practitioners and policy-makers can support children with PTSD

May 22, 2023

The results of a systematic review by the Children’s Health Policy Centre suggest five implications for practice and policy relating to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

  • Use cognitive behavioural therapy when treating childhood PTSD. Our review showed that CBT was effective for children who had experienced a variety of traumas, including multiple and complex traumas. As well, many children in these studies were experiencing concurrent mental health concerns, and this treatment was still effective for their PTSD.
  • Consider Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a reasonable second choice. Although there is more evidence supporting CBT to treat childhood PTSD, EMDR showed promise for children exposed to a single trauma, based on one trial. That said, EMDR needs further rigorous evaluation.
  • Do not rely on medications to treat childhood PTSD. Based on this review, there are no medications that are effective in treating childhood PTSD. Instead, effective psychosocial treatments should be the mainstay.
  • Treat concurrent conditions using effective interventions. Some children with PTSD will have concurrent mental disorders. These children should be provided with effective treatments addressing all of their mental health concerns. (Information about effective treatments for 12 of the most common disorders is available from one of our reports.)
  • Be prepared for more children to present with PTSD during COVID-19. Recent estimates suggest that PTSD may greatly increase due to the pandemic as many children may experience the trauma of losing loved ones or witnessing loved ones being seriously affected. CBT should still be used when trauma stems from COVID-19.

No child should be exposed to the kinds of serious adverse experiences that can give rise to PTSD. Prevention of such experiences therefore remains the top priority. But when prevention has not been possible, CBT can help. For more information, see Vol. 15, No. 2 of the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly.